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More liberal-leftists than care to admit it now rooted for al-Qaeda and the Saddamist militias as they slaughtered "the powerless" and tried to overthrow the elected Iraqi government. Even they must raise an eyebrow at the award of a peace prize to one of their number. Pilger was not arguing for peace. He was taking sides — the wrong side in my view — in a war. To overcome this formidable obstacle, the Sydney judges fly off into a make-believe world in which ideas lose any connection to meaning. On their lips, "peace," "courage," "justice," and "human rights" become vacuous murmurs of approval that splash over the ideologically-favoured like warm water from a shower — and then gurgle into the gutter.

They cannot have thought that they would get away with it, and they didn't. Hostile bloggers duly mocked and condemned them. But I suspect they did not care because they were not criticised by their own side. The overwhelming majority of political writers on the internet do not fact-check allies or warn them that they are making a mistake. Indeed, the standard web author rarely sees the need to spell out what his or her side believes in and argue for it in the marketplace of ideas. Instead, they encourage group loyalty and group-think by denouncing opponents. Free access to content makes the building of tribal identification by ritual jeering at opponents the dominant style. We are so used to it we forget its novelty. A generation ago, a conservative would have been aware that left-wing newspapers contained ideas he found ridiculous or sinister. However, as he would never waste his money buying a copy, he could spend his life in happy ignorance of the specifics. The same applied to liberals with the Tory press. Now it is easy, far too easy, for a blogger to click on an ideological opponent's site or newspaper and select heretical thoughts to copy and denounce to his allies.    

The limitations of the style were there for all to see when Britain witnessed the largest outbreak of Fisking the web has yet experienced. It began when Jan Moir, a sort of conservative Pilger, wrote a creepy piece in the Daily Mail about the sudden death of Boyzone singer  Stephen Gately. The web erupted in such fury that its anger was a newsworthy phenomenon in itself. Via Twitter and conventional websites, protesters lodged a record number of objections with the Press Complaints Commission about Moir's insinuation, based on no evidence whatsoever, that the coroner was wrong to say that the gay pop star's death had been natural. It had something to do with his homosexuality, she maintained, although for the life of her, she did not know what.  By the time she had thrown in that Gately's death had been a "blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships" for homosexuals, the web was aflame.

The outrage seemed to fulfil the dreams of those who predicted that the Net would humble haughty elitists. In the past, gatekeeper journalists at the Mail or any other paper could inflict their prejudices on the masses without fear of reprisals. Now, critics could check their facts instantly — there was no evidence that Gately's homosexuality had anything to do with his death. A surprisingly large number of apparently healthy young men drop dead because of undiagnosed heart problems. The death of a gay man no more invalidates gay marriage than the death of a heterosexual man invalidates conventional marriage. Net enthusiasts emailed and tweeted me to say that we were seeing "reader power" in action. And I had to tell them that we were seeing nothing of the sort.

The protesters weren't readers of the Mail, who remained as suspicious of gay liberation as ever. They were opponents of social conservatism who were using the access the internet has brought to papers they once ignored to register their violent disapproval of views they had always violently opposed. They were affirming their membership of the liberal tribe rather than announcing their break with conservatism. On the net, as in the rest of life, team-building does not lead to sceptical questioning but to the reinforcement of their existing opinions and loyalties.

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December 8th, 2009
3:12 PM
Nick, you're pushing the issues to extremes of simplicity that are not realistic. Perhaps there are rosy eyed internet utopians. I haven't come across them but if their claim is that the net is creating a genuinely new type of sovereignty they are plain wrong, so obviously so as to not need comment. But looked at in more sensitive terms, the net comprises ~ ~ planned censorship (like China); ~ wealth censorship via distribution (any big well funded business site that can pay muscle to climb up google); ~ government or commercial misinformation via planted articles/ advertorials etc ~ pressure group misinformation AND corrective truths ~ media distortions due to stereotypes/ elite owner policies/ sloppiness etc AND media exposures/whistecblowers ~ neighbourhood fence tittle tattle rubbish AND some gems of loosely networked blogosphere exposes and campaigns ~ well organised networks /campaigns AND limp amateurish collapses/ control freaked failure projects/ woolly idealists and cranks/ infiltration steering or failures ~ fast shared info by blog/ email/ chatroom/forum to steer campaigns, pressure groups, to educate, inspire and activate AND crass fundamentalist propaganda. ~ SPEED - of rumour/ expose/ networking/ controls and all Much of that is no more than a mirror of older offline versions. But the difference is the sheer quantity. As you said never before have we had access to so much information both useful and useless. Discrimination skills are of the essence, the Delete button is a cult object. What is different perhaps is the sheer speed by which a governmet or commercial diktat can be countered. Many of "our masters" have not caught up with that. Of those that have the "database State" phalanx is a glaring example. As ever, as Gareth Williams so sensibly points out, the technology can be misused as much as well used. My delight in the last few years is to see how at last people are em,erging from the shock of the Thatcher/ Bush/ Blair axis, to criticise and campaign. I believe it will have to go far beyond blogging and the net, into a lot of street violence - look at Greece right now. "Our masters" have been preparing to defend their trough, with police tazers, CCTV, the database state, creeping criminalisation of all citizens, and dumbing down education. This isn't going to be nice, but the net is one of the best tools we have. Don't trash it so enthusiastically and blindly or I'll have to think you're acting in service to those who want us to despair.

P J Manasseh
December 8th, 2009
2:12 PM
Surely the worst problem with an identity data base is it will be relied upon despite other more appropriate means of identification and information. Since humans make mistakes any system which does not allow correction is bound to be imperfect. A database cannot be 100% safe nor 100% accurate so if it is relied on there will be problems. There is also the opportunity of an identity theft based on hacking into the database providing a much more information making the theft easier. If a mailing list for a magazine is full of errors it may affect a few people but if lives. jobs and safety are dependent on a database watch out. Oh and loss of the freedom to change and improve oneself after a shaky start in life one could go on and on....

December 5th, 2009
6:12 PM
"most of he tracts that have led to oppression have been distributed on paper..." That is until, I suppose, you came along Paul.

December 4th, 2009
10:12 AM
Laud would loathe d'net.

Gareth Williams
November 28th, 2009
8:11 AM
Isn't it an observable fact that the internet has permitted more views to be propagated and more detailed criticism to be undertaken than could be done before? If you subscribe to an Open Society analysis this is surely a good thing. However, I don't see how any technology can abolish stupidity and partisanship. Anyone who did make this claim is foolishly utopian. Similarly is it really news that bad people also use technology for their own ends? (In fact, is there a straw man sitting on the other side of this debate?) There are certainly plenty of problems and imperfections inherent in the internet - but then it's a human artifact. An inability to be perfect shouldn't discount a contribution to what's good. Isn't Guido Fawkes positive political position (libertarian) implicit in everything he writes? And more than occasionally quite explicit? Finally, I think your history is a bit mechanistic and literal. No printing = no Reformation which means no Enlightenment. Also wasn't absolutism a progressive force in the dialectic (not that it succeeded for long in England, with ideas propagated by paper being a major contributor to its destruction)?

Alexander Melea...
November 27th, 2009
6:11 PM
Davie, Go back, sit down, and read the schools funding story again. The 'allegations' were by no means false. On second thoughts here, let me make it simple for you: it is a FACT that schools run by Hizb ut-tahrir (i presume you know who they are)have received £113,000 in public funds and the tories were right to point that out. Here is where the 'false' part comes in, and it is no more than a technicality: David Cameron's researcher jumped the gun and said the source of these public funds was the Preventing Violent extremism Pathfinder fund, this is wrong, the public funds came from a different Pathfinder fund. In future, read up properly on stories before you start throwing 'allegations' around. I have also blogged this info here -

November 27th, 2009
11:11 AM
Nick, Your hatred of the Left, as well as your conversion to the Right has been patently obvious over several years now. But the following is a low blow: "More liberal-leftists than care to admit it now rooted for al-Qaeda and the Saddamist militias as they slaughtered "the powerless" and tried to overthrow the elected Iraqi government". Where on earth did you get such a speculative factoid??? I don't recall any writer in the pages of the Guardian, Observer or The Independent rooting for rooted for al-Qaeda or the Saddamist militias... Please don't try to pass off such statements as fact. Leave the dirty work to Cheney, Rove and Fox News

November 27th, 2009
11:11 AM
Cohen says: "The overwhelming majority of political writers on the internet do not fact-check allies". This in an article published the day after Cohen uncritically reproduces the utterly false allegations made by David Cameron about schools in Slough! Whither the fact-checkers now...

Guido Fawkes
November 27th, 2009
7:11 AM
Is paper a tool of tyranny? After all, most of he tracts that have led to oppression have been distributed on paper...

November 26th, 2009
3:11 PM
The internet is neither 'good' nor 'bad' for freedom or democracy. Like nuclear weapons, free markets and a whole host of other such things, it is something that can be both good or bad, depending on what humans make of them.

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